North Carolina Supreme Court
|Current partisan makeup
|% Justices of Color
|Phil Berger Jr.
In recent years, the NC Supreme Court has delivered key decisions affecting your access to the ballot box, workers, education, criminal justice and more. These justices — who you elect — have a direct impact on your rights.
Why North Carolina Matters
State supreme courts rule on a variety of issues that directly impact your everyday life. Here are some ways the Court has shaped your most critical constitutional rights and protections.
The North Carolina Supreme Court has been ground zero for redistricting battles. Following the census every 10 years, new legislative maps are drawn to adjust to population changes. When new legislative maps were drawn in 2011, groups claimed the legislative maps were racially gerrymandered. Racial gerrymandering occurs when legislative maps attempt to dilute the voting power of protected minorities. Typically, a racially gerrymandered map spreads minority voters across multiple districts, preventing these voters from electing candidates of their choice in any of the districts, or packs minority voters into just one district even though the voters could elect candidates in multiple districts. In the 2011 case, the North Carolina Supreme Court rejected the racial gerrymander claim, disenfranchising affected minority voters. However, four years later, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the case and invalidated the very maps the NC Court found valid. Now in 2022, the NC Supreme Court rejected the maps drawn by the NC Legislature due to partisan gerrymanders and mandated new maps be drawn for a lower court to implement. The new maps have since been approved by the U.S. Supreme Court to stand. This decision has been lauded as an essential victory for all North Carolinians to ensure equal access to the ballot.
The Court has also had a direct impact on schools and access to education. A fundamental case for education in the state determined the state has a constitutional requirement to provide a sound and basic education for all students across the state. Since that decision was made over two decades ago, there has been ongoing litigation to determine if the state has actually fulfilled the promise of a sound and basic education for all students; litigation has also concerned whether the Court can really act as a check on the executive branch on school funding matters. In a recent extension of the litigation, the Court has also protected students facing harassment and discrimination in schools. The Court overruled a lower court decision, finding that the right to a sound, basic education includes the right to be free from harassment in school. This is a step forward for protecting young people in schools and expanding their right to hold those accountable. However, the Court has also upheld the state’s voucher programs. Voucher programs divert funds for public schools to individuals and their families so they can attend a private school, meaning public school funding is being weakened since taxpayers are paying for both public and private education. While these programs seem helpful in theory, often times they can exacerbate existing disparities in the education system or leave students worse off.
Beyond young people and schooling, the Court has been critical in expanding worker protections in the state. The Court protected tenured teachers after their tenure status was revoked following a 2013 state law. Moreover, the Court expanded workers’ compensation protections beyond just physical injuries. When a worker was severely injured on the job, his employer only recognized his physical injuries. Meanwhile, the employee was also suffering from anxiety and depression related to the injuries. The Court found the employee deserved a presumption that his anxiety and depression were in fact related to the injuries, ultimately strengthening worker protections. In another case, the Court further broadened worker protections. Following an injury on the job, an employee was unable to perform parts of his job that required heavy lifting. In return, his employer offered him an alternate position within the company, however he was denied certain disability benefits. The Court found the employer had a duty to ensure that the post-injury job provided was suitable to his pre-injury job. These cases protected workers against any abuses by their employers.
The Court has been essential in ensuring access to justice. When emergency room patients were overbilled by a hospital, they tried to take the hospital to court in a class-action suit. However, the hospital tried to dismiss the suit by voiding the bills, which would render the lawsuit moot and prevent the patients from holding the hospital accountable for its actions. The Court found that even though the bills were dismissed, the plaintiffs still had a right to claim damages and seek class certification— meaning they had a right to still bring their case to court. The Court also bolstered access to justice in criminal court when it ordered a new hearing for a criminal defendant who alleged racial discrimination during his trial’s jury selection. By doing so, the Court created an opportunity to see if race was in fact the motivating factor in striking mainly Black individuals from the jury pool. If that was the case, then the defendant, a Black man who had been sentenced to life without parole, would be entitled to a new trial by a true jury of his peers. The decision was the first acknowledgement of racial discrimination in jury selection by the Court and provided invaluable guidance on racial discrimination in jury selection for lower courts.
It’s clear the North Carolina Supreme Court rules over a variety of key issues. From equal protection for students in public schools to worker protections and compensation, the Court has acted as a safeguard for some of our community’s most vulnerable individuals. It is critical, especially for cases like these, that the Court understands the impact of its decisions on every single person.
North Carolina selects their Supreme Court Justice through partisan elections. This means that candidates for Supreme Court run with political party affiliations listed on the ballot. These candidates are also, typically, endorsed by their respective state political parties. If multiple candidates from each political party are interested in running, then they will compete in a primary election. The candidate with the most votes will move onto the general. If elected, the justice will serve an eight-year term.
If an unexpected vacancy occurs on the Court, then the governor will appoint an individual to the Court. That individual will stand for election, where they can be challenged by another candidate, in the next general election at least 60 days following their appointment.
Current Justices on the Court
Paul Newby, Chief Justice
Chief Justice Paul Newby was elected to the Supreme Court as Associate Justice in 2004. In November 2012 he won re-election, and in November 2020 he was elected as Chief Justice. Chief Justice Newby will reach the state’s mandatory retirement age in 2027.
- Newby started his legal career in private practice, first with the Van Winkle Law Firm in Asheville and then as vice president and general counsel of Cannon Mills Realty and Development Corporation in Kannapolis.
- After four years, he joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina as an assistant U.S. attorney. He remained in the office for 19 years, during which he taught many courses for the U.S. Department of Justice and received the Crime Victims Fund Award.
- When North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Robert F. Orr resigned in 2004, Newby won a special election to fill the vacant seat. He was re-elected to a second eight-year term in 2012.
- In 2020, Newby was elected Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court. He will reach the state’s mandatory retirement age in 2027.
Richard Deitz, Associate Justice
Justice Richard Dietz was elected to the North Carolina Supreme Court in 2022. His term on the bench will expire in January 2031. To remain on the bench, he must run for re-election in November of 2030. Justice Deitz will reach the state’s mandatory retirement age in 2049.
- Upon graduation from law school, Dietz clerked for Judge Emory Widener on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and Judge Samuel Wilson on the U.S. District Court in Virginia. Following his clerkships, Dietz went into private practice focusing on litigation. While in private practice, he maintained a diverse legal practice but focused on constitutional law, business, and complex litigation. He remained in private practice until he ran for the supreme court.
Trey Allen, Associate Justice
Justice Trey Allen was elected to the North Carolina Supreme Court in 2022. His term on the bench will expire in January 2031. To remain on the bench, he must run for re-election in November of 2030. Justice Allen will reach the state’s mandatory retirement age in 2046.
- Following law school, Allen served in the Marine Corps as a judge advocate general (JAG). After serving as a JAG, Allen returned to North Carolina and served as a clerk to now-Chief Justice Paul Newby. Upon completion of his clerkship, he joined a private practice firm litigating in state and federal court on civil and constitutional law issues. Then in 2013, Allen joined UNC Chapel Hill’s School of Government where he remained until he joined the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts as General Counsel. In 2022, Allen ran for election to the North Carolina Supreme Court and won.
Allison Riggs, Associate Justice
Justice Allison Riggs was first appointed to the North Carolina Supreme Court in September 2023 to fill the vacancy left by Justice Michael Morgan resigning from the bench. She will need to run for election in 2024 to serve for a full eight-year term. She will reach the state’s mandatory retirement age in approximately 2053.
- Upon graduation from law school at the Levin College of Law at the University of Florida in 2009, Riggs joined the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) as a staff attorney. She spent her career advocating for civil rights throughout the south with SCSJ later working as a Senior Attorney, Chief Counsel for Voting Rights, and eventually Co-Executive Director of the organization.
- In December of 2022, Gov. Cooper appointed Riggs to the Court of Appeals. She served in that role from January 2023 until her appointment to the state supreme court in September 2023.
Anita Earls, Associate Justice
Justice Anita Earls was elected to the Supreme Court in November 2018 and assumed office in January 2019. Her current term ends in 2026, and she will reach the state’s mandatory retirement age in 2032.
- Prior to her judicial service, Earls was a civil rights attorney with a focus on protecting the fundamental right to vote. After graduating from law school, she began at the civil rights firm Ferguson, Stein, Watt, Wallas, Adkins & Gresham in Charlotte, NC.
- In 1998, Earls was appointed by President Clinton to be Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. Then from 2000 to 2003, she led the Voting Rights Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
- In 2003, Earls returned to North Carolina and joined the UNC Center for Civil Rights as Director of Advocacy.
- Four years later, she founded a non-profit legal advocacy organization called the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, where she remained until her campaign for a seat on the North Carolina Supreme Court.
- Earls was elected to the Supreme Court in November 2018 and was sworn in January 2019. Her current eight-year term ends in 2026.
Philip Berger, Jr., Associate Justice
Justice Philip Berger Jr. was elected to the Supreme Court in November 2020 and assumed office in January 2021. His current term ends in 2028, and he will reach the state’s mandatory retirement age in 2044.
- Berger began his legal career in private practice. In 2001, he started The Berger Law Firm with his father and brother.
- In 2006, Berger was elected District Attorney in Rockingham County, North Carolina and was re-elected in 2010.
- He first joined the bench in 2015 as an Administrative Law Judge with the North Carolina Office of Administrative Hearings. A year later, he was elected to the North Carolina Court of Appeals.
- In 2020, Berger was elected to the Supreme Court and was sworn in January 2021. His current eight-year term ends in 2028.
Tamara Barringer, Associate Justice
Justice Tamara Barringer was elected to the Supreme Court in November 2020 and assumed office in January 2021. Her current term ends in 2028, and she will reach the state’s mandatory retirement age in approximately 2031. Legal Career
- Barringer started her career in private practice with the firm Poyner and Spruill. She then co-founded Barringer Sasser, LLP in Cary, North Carolina, where she worked for over two decades. She primarily represented entrepreneurs and small business clients in business and tax law, estate planning, and estate administration matters.
- From 2012 to 2018, Barringer was a North Carolina state senator from the 17th district.
- In 2020, Barringer was elected to her current position on the North Carolina Supreme Court. Her current eight-year term ends in 2028.
- M.E. v. T.J. (2022) – LGBTQ+ Rights The Court upheld a decision establishing that LGBTQ+ couples cannot be excluded from domestic violence protections and struck down a state domestic violence protection statute that required parties to be of opposite sex.
- Deminski v. State Bd. Of Education (2022) – Education The Court held that a student can bring a claim under the state Constitution when a school district is deliberately indifferent to continuous student harassment. The Court reversed the Court of Appeals ruling, which held that the student-plaintiffs, who’d faced bullying and sexual harassment at school and ultimately withdrew, did not have a viable claim.
- Harper v. Hall (2022) – Voting Rights The Court struck down political maps drawn by the state legislature as unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders and ordered that new maps be drawn. The U.S. Supreme Court later declined to review a challenge to the re-drawn maps.
- Leandro v. State of North Carolina (2022) – Education In 1997 and 2004, the Court ruled that the state had an obligation to provide a sound and basic education for all children. Since then, litigation has been ongoing as to whether the state has adequately remedied the harm. This year, the Court will rule as to whether the state’s judicial branch has power to order the executive branch to allocate more funds to educational spending.
- State v. Kinston Charter School (2021) – Education The Court found that charter schools within the state are not immune to civil lawsuits because they are private entities, not state agencies.
- Griffin v. Absolute Fire Control (2021) – Workers’ Rights A worker who was injured on the job sought a determination that the post-injury job he was offered was not suitable employment. The Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the injured worker, finding that his age, education, and experience demonstrated that seeking work would be futile and that a job is not suitable unless it is available on the competitive marketplace. The Supreme Court affirmed this decision.
- State v. Hobbs (2020) – Access to Justice The Court ordered a new hearing in a murder trial to determine whether race was the primary factor for a prosecutor striking Black citizens from the jury pool. Additionally, the Court provided guidance on how lower courts should address racial discrimination in jury selection.
- Chambers v. Moses H. Cone Mem. Hosp. (2020) – Access to Justice The plaintiff filed a class action lawsuit claiming that the defendant hospital systematically overbilled uninsured ER patients, but the hospital dismissed his bill to render the lawsuit moot. The Court recognized a new exception to the mootness doctrine “when a named plaintiff’s individual claim becomes moot before the plaintiff has had a fair opportunity to pursue class certification and has otherwise acted without undue delay regarding class certification.”
- State v. Ramseur (2020) – Criminal Justice The Court considered the North Carolina General Assembly’s repeal of the state’s Racial Justice Act, which created mechanisms for criminal defendants to challenge their death sentences on the ground that race was a significant factor in the prosecution. The Court held that it was unconstitutional to deny hearings to those who had filed claims before the law was repealed.
- State v. Copley (2020) – Criminal Justice The Court found that a prosecutor could invoke race in the closing argument when the defendant, a white man who killed a Black man, made racially discriminatory comments to police officers at the time of the killing.
- State v. James (2017) – Juvenile Justice Plaintiffs, who were sentenced to life without parole as teenagers, argued that the state law violated the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Miller v. Alabama, which held that mandatory sentence of life without parole for minors are unconstitutional. The North Carolina Supreme Court found that the state law was constitutional and did not create a presumptive sentence of life without parole.
- Wilkes v. City of Greenville (2017) – Workers’ Rights A landscaping worker employed by the City of Greenville was injured on the job. The employer accepted injuries to his ribs, neck, legs, and left side as compensable, but denied that his anxiety and depression were related to the work incident. The Court held that the worker was entitled to a presumption that the additional conditions were related to the compensable injuries.
- North Carolina Association of Educators Inc. v. State (2015) – Workers’ Rights The Court ruled that a 2013 state law taking tenure away from teachers who had already earned the status violated the Contract Clause of the U.S. Constitution. However, the ruling did not impact teachers who were hired after the law went into effect.
- Hart v. State (2015) – Education The Court upheld the state’s voucher program, which provides state educational funding for low-income students who want to attend private schools.
- Dickson v. Rucho (2015) – Voting Rights The Court held that the 2011 legislative maps were not unconstitutional racial gerrymanders. The Dickson v. Rucho decision was ultimately vacated after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Cooper v. Harris, a separate case, that the 2011 maps were unconstitutional.
How to Weigh In On Your Supreme Court
- Check your voter registration status here. Not registered? You can register to vote online or in-person through your state DMV or by-mail. To register to vote online, access and submit your application here.
- Your last day to register to vote in the November 8, 2022 general election is October 14, 2022.
- Make your plan to vote! In North Carolina, you can vote-by-mail, vote early in-person, or vote in-person at your polling place on Election Day.
- If you’re unable to go to the polls or just prefer to vote-by-mail, you can learn about early voting-by-mail here.
- If you’re looking to vote early and in-person, you must do it at an early-voting site. Learn more about voting early in-person here. You can find your county’s early-voting site here.
- If you want to vote in-person on Election Day, find more information here. Make sure you know your polling place. You can find your polling place using this tool here.
- Lastly, make sure you’ve completed your entire ballot! Sometimes state Supreme Court races can be on the bottom or back of the ballot.